- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2008

ZIMBABWE

Mugabe rejects calls to step down

HARARE | Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said Tuesday the U.S. and Britain are “stupid” to think he shouldn’t be part of a unity government.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said over the weekend that Washington can no longer support a power-sharing proposal that leaves Mr. Mugabe president, and Britain’s Africa minister backed the U.S. stance Monday.

“This stupid and foolish thinking” ignores that only Zimbabweans can make such a decision, Mr. Mugabe said at a funeral for a retired army general who had fought British rule in Zimbabwe.

“We are not going to listen to what [President] Bush and [British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown are saying,” Mr. Mugabe, 84, said. “We do realize that these are the last kicks of a dying horse.”

Mr. Mugabe has faced renewed criticism because of a humanitarian crisis that has pushed millions of Zimbabweans to the point of starvation and spawned a cholera epidemic that UNICEF’s representative in Zimbabwe said Tuesday had killed 1,174 people and may take six months to control.

TAIWAN

China sends giant pandas in goodwill

TAIPEI | China sent two of its prized giant pandas to Taiwan Tuesday, the latest installment of a charm offensive aimed at persuading the island’s people to embrace their Communist rival.

Millions of Taiwanese watched the televised arrival of Tuan Tuan, a male panda, and his female companion, Yuan Yuan, at Taipei airport. The pandas, the first to inhabit the island, are typically loaned in pairs with the hope they will mate.

The giant panda is unique to China and is regularly sent abroad as a sign of warm diplomatic relations or to mark breakthroughs in ties. For more than five decades, Beijing has used panda diplomacy to make friends and influence people in countries ranging from the United States to the former Soviet Union.

The delivery to Taiwan - more than three years in the making - comes amid rapidly improving relations between Taiwan and China, which split amid civil war in 1949.

After the three-hour flight across southern China and the Taiwan Strait, the pandas were taken from Taipei airport for the short trip to the city’s zoo, where they are expected to remain in quarantine for 30 days.

Knots of eager onlookers waited at the zoo for the animals, though all they could see was the red, panda-ornamented tarpaulin covering the their cages.

SINGAPORE

Passengers trapped on Ferris wheel

SINGAPORE | Fire broke out in the control room of the world’s largest Ferris wheel Tuesday, trapping 173 people hundreds of feet above the ground for hours and forcing rescuers to lower 10 passengers to safety by rope.

Two passengers were hospitalized with minor ailments.

During the six hour-ordeal, passengers were able to talk with officials via intercom, and rescuers tethered to harnesses brought them sandwiches and soft drinks.

The 541-foot Singapore Flyer, which has carried 2 million passengers since it began operating in February, is about 100 feet taller than the London Eye, formerly the world’s tallest Ferris wheel. It was built by Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

SOMALIA

African Union extends peacekeeping

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia | The African Union will keep its peacekeeping force in Somalia for two more months, an official said, but there was little hope of deploying extra soldiers before Ethiopian troops pull out at the end of the year.

Zambian Foreign Minister Kabinga Pande said late Monday that Nigeria, Burundi and Uganda will send 850 soldiers each to strengthen the current force of around 3,400 A.U. peacekeepers, but international funds were needed to help them deploy. The 53-member A.U. has a mandate to deploy 8,000 soldiers but has been unable to find countries willing to send troops.

RUSSIA

New missile fails a fifth test

MOSCOW | Russia’s new sea-based ballistic missile has failed in a test launch for the fifth time, signaling serious trouble with the highly advertised key future component of the nation’s nuclear forces.

The Bulava “self-destructed and exploded in the air” after a launch from the Dmitry Donskoy nuclear submarine beneath the surface of the White Sea, a navy spokesman said.

Russia has been making an aggressive effort in recent years to upgrade its missile forces after years of post-Soviet underfunding and a lack of testing.

The Bulava is reportedly designed to have a maximum range of about 6,200 miles and carry six individually targeted nuclear warheads. It is expected to equip three new Borei-class nuclear submarines that are under construction.

CHINA

3 ships to leave Friday for Somalia

BEIJING | Chinese warships on a mission to protect their country’s vessels and crews from pirate attacks off Somalia will depart Friday, armed with special forces, helicopters and plans to share information with other countries working in the area.

The operation, China’s first major naval mission abroad, will include destroyers Haikou and Wuhan as well as a large supply ship, said Rear Adm. Xiao Xinnian, Deputy Chief of Staff of the People’s Liberation Army Navy. On board will be two helicopters and traditional weapons such as missiles and cannons.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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